Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and fourteen.
This episode is brought to you by the Bothersome Things podcast.
It’s like eating a unicorn for dinner.
Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
Tonight, Blackhall participates in the end of the siege of the Elg Herra, and concludes much outstanding business.
Flash Pulp 114 – The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 3
Moments after the departure of Thomas’ former companion, panic began to march through the beds at the edges of the rolling longhouse, and down the center aisle which held the iron bowls of flame that maintained the Moose Lord’s heat and cooking fires.
Blackhall could not translate the flurry of speech which surrounded him, but he could see that all were focused upon the small closets at the rear of the wagon which acted as the home’s latrines, and he moved quickly to scrutinize what he suspected was Marco’s work.
The cramped space stunk of spilled gin and the involuntary releases of death.
Within, his sockets bulging and his legs thrust straight, was the corpse of Mathus, the Elg Herran shaman. A length of folded cloth remained at this throat, the obvious instrument of his murder.
His body had been stripped of ornamentation, the fled Frenchman having rifled anything that might be of value, monetarily or mystically.
For a moment Thomas shut his eyes, rubbing at their dry and rasping surface with forefinger and thumb. Fatigue was heavy upon his shoulders, and the imagined spectre of Mairi’s dead face drifted up to him from the inky depths of his closed lids.
As he let out a long breath and once again opened his vision, Mairi’s aspect was replaced by that of Disa, who stood before him.
“Was it my Marco?” she demanded.
Blackhall confirmed the worst with a short nod.
“He also removed all that might have some worth from our shared bunk – including the ring he gave me in safekeeping till our ceremony of binding.” She spoke in husky tones, and a flash of despair crossed her face.
Before she might weep, the pregnant woman strode away.
* * *
The attack came at noon, and Thomas, who’d relocated to the roof of the rear-most in the procession, finally had his first close-viewing of the Presters, as a raiding party detached itself from the larger force and moved against his perch.
They came with fire in hand, and their dogs baying in the lead. The alabaster-skinned men huddled close behind the hounds, with leather shields held high to stave off arrow attacks, and those without torches toted long, rough-hewn logs on their shoulders, to act as pikes against a bull moose rush.
Blackhall’s unsettling plan had formed soon after the discovery of Mathus’ body, but the knowledge he intended to implement had come straight from the old man’s tongue, and he knew the shaman would gladly give anything to bring an end to the threat against his people.
Still, Thomas had kept up a stream of apologies as he’d conducted his grisly work – all the better to keep his gorge from rising.
Now, as the approaching contingent moved to catch their wheeled target, he set aside Marco’s cast-off gin bottle, which harboured the old man’s sight organs, and raised his Baker rifle. His targeting was arbitrary, as any of the encroaching assailants would have happily seen him dead.
The crack and roll of gunpowder filled the air, and the lead of Blackhall’s foes fell, his torch landing amongst the trampled grasses, forgotten.
Construction of the larger charm had been considerably less disgusting, although the moving of the fire bowl had been sweatier work. Once in place, Thomas had wound leather about a wooden lid, to hold it over-top a concoction he’d mixed within the basin itself.
With Asmund’s assistance, he sent the vessel tumbling to the ground.
The volume of the cauldron had allowed him more room for reagents than during his original demonstration to the old man, and, as the cedar covering shattered upon the ground, a misty feline of immense proportion rose up, nearly overtaking the height of the wagon itself.
The dogs ceased their forward movement with animal terror in their eyes. They turned and began to flee.
At the cowardice of their beasts, the pallid-men also pivoted, and the retreating mob was soon moved to panic as a cluster of mounted defenders arrived in response to the prearranged signal of the birthing of the ghostly cat-daemon.
Blackhall knew the phantasm would not remain corporeal long, only until the last of his whisky supply ran into the earth, but it was ample for his intentions. In short moments the riders had retrieved the fallen Prester corpse, and returned with it to Thomas’ station.
It was easy enough to extract the necessary blood from the cadaver’s weeping wound, and, once again taking up the gory gin bottle, the frontiersman mixed in the last component necessary for his preparation.
A man came running from the assaulting line, shouting to rouse his people. Blackhall noted another beside him – a familiar, hunched form, which he suspected to be Hakon.
Thomas could only guess what fearful words the traitor must have used to press the desperate plan after realizing that this might be his final attempt to lay low those who had spurned him. Nor, for that matter, did he know what volume of riches the Presters must have originally promised the defector to turn against his people – Blackhall wondered if it was a sum greater than that which had purchased the loyalty of his former friend, the voyageur.
Whatever oaths the Prester King now pawned in his own tongue, it was enough to rally his host, who moved forward as a mighty wall, driving the flood of frightened hounds before them.
Although it still stood, the summoned whiskey spirit’s form had begun to blur, and, despite its aggressive stance, its clawed hands had begun to dissipate in the breeze.
Blackhall implemented his closing scheme, tipping the now sealed gin bottle on its side, upon the roof, and setting his boot heavily through the glass, crushing the blind orbs within.
The rushing line fell forward, suddenly asleep upon the unyielding plain.
The pack, spooked by the apparition before them, and the swooning of their masters behind them, scattered as if a cloud burst, draining into the dry turf.
This left an odd moment: all those of Prester blood having suddenly collapsed, and their mongrels absconded, there were but two figures still standing amid the dense heap of slumberers. One stood at the forefront of the failed rush, and one stood in the rear, having been happy to let those he considered savages carry out the grim work of fighting.
A single arrow arced over the fallen sleepers, it’s flight strong and true – Marco was allowed no scream as its shaft passed through his traitor’s throat.
Blackhall turned to see Disa standing alongside him, a bow in her hands.
“I will tell little Marcus, or Ida – whichever happens to arrive – that he died defending us from the Prester siege.”
With that, she moved to re-take the ladder, disappearing once again into the depths of the longhouse.
The lone figure of Hakon had only made five steps when the simultaneous wrath of the multitude of long-stymied archers was unleashed, cutting him down mid-stride.
Seconds later, the grunting efforts of the harnessed buffalo had pulled the triumphant Elg Herra beyond bow range.
Blackhall turned to Asmund.
“They’ll sleep two full days, more than time enough for the caravan to make an orderly escape.”
“We should turn about to cut their throats,” said the Earl’s son, “but I’ve no stomach for butchery. Considering their intentions, we have been kind to them.”
“The dogs will not stay long from their master’s guiding hands, and it will not be so kind a fate if they have been too long in feeding their animals,” replied Blackhall.
The frontiersman stooped for his rifle, eager to be once again on the path that would lead him to Mairi, and yearning for the distance which would put him well away from the politics of others.
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